The Interceptor and Ocean Garbage Cleanup

Does ethical consumption exist?

We should do all we can to save the environment by cutting down on waste, it’s true. But for many — busy parents, the working class, those with mental or physical disabilities — it isn’t possible to go completely zero-waste in our homes, whether the barriers are time, money, or access. And even if you throw your plastic into a recycling bin, the chances of it getting recycled are much lower than anyone would like. That isn’t a flaw of the individual, but the system itself. 

Whenever I throw away that wax-covered carton of oat milk (or even a bag from a side of frozen broccoli), I wonder if I’ve made the right choice. Is it more important to save the plastic waste from frozen vegetables than it is to feed my family a nutritious, convenient dinner side? Which is better? Which is worse? You can drive yourself crazy with that kind of thinking. It can often feel like there is no right choice...and that’s the correct answer. There is no 100% right choice, and there is no purely ethical consumption under our current system. 

Garbage island

Through the fault of no individual choice, currents from different oceans meet and create a gyre between California and Hawai’i. Buoyant plastic trash that flows from rivers around the Pacific Rim into the ocean can eventually make its way here, the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. Trash floats along the ocean’s top, covering an area twice the size of Texas. It gets bigger every year, and it is just one of five garbage patches around the world contaminating the ocean and creating dangerous and deadly obstacles for ocean life. The existence of these vast floating piles of garbage has been acknowledged since at least 1997, but until just recently, very little has been done to combat the problem. Environmentalists are challenged by the distance, the scope, the financial cost, and the constrictions of attempting to remove garbage without damaging wildlife further. These difficulties have made this one of the significant modern scientific issues in our race to save the planet. 

The Ocean Cleanup

Fortunately, people are trying to develop a solution. While progress is slow, good things are ahead. In particular, a nonprofit organization called The Ocean Cleanup has two solutions for the issue they are working to scale up. One addresses the plastic currently in the ocean, while the other works on actively keeping plastic out of the ocean altogether.

The Cleanup project has developed a way to use an artificial coastline to gather up vast amounts of plastic. They float huge nets between two boats that collect garbage, and then it is lifted onto the ships in vast nets. The plastic is sorted and put back into the recycling system. 

The Interceptor

The Interceptor helps tackle river garbage specifically. Most ocean plastic comes from rivers, and most river waste comes from 1,000 rivers globally. The Ocean Cleanup has developed the first scalable solution to collect river plastic waste without damaging the ecosystem and animal life. 

A massive solar-powered machine, The Interceptor is attached to barriers that capture garbage floating on the top of the river while allowing fish to swim underneath safely. It uses a conveyor belt to collect garbage into six huge dumpsters, which can be transported to local waste management facilities for processing.

Only a handful of these machines are in use. Still, The Ocean Cleanup is actively working to have garbage retrieval systems in place in the 1,000 most polluted rivers in the world in the next five years. This will dramatically reduce the amount of plastic that is dumped into the ocean. 

As of March of 2022, the nonprofit organization’s website claims to have removed 500,000 football fields worth of garbage from the ocean. Between addressing the issue that already exists in the ocean and developing technology to avoid it in the future, this organization is actively changing the world and the harm our consumer culture has done to it.

Hope for the future

Plastic waste will continue to be a major problem in the years to come, and the microplastic damage to the environment will have an impact for hundreds of years more. But we have to start somewhere, don’t we? Imagine how many other organizations are out there, working hard in their specialties, making changes and advances that will save our planet. Despite what it can feel like, there is plenty of reason to hope for the future. 

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